Snuff Bottle Books

The books I find myself turning to again and again when doing research about snuff  bottles are :

To distinguish the different materials

  • Stevens, Bob. The Collectors Book of Snuff Bottles. New York and Weatherhill, 1976
  • Moss, Graham, Tsang.  A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles.  The Mary and George Bloch Collection. Hong Kong Vols 1-7

For looking up marks and Signatures etc

  • Jutheau, Viviane.  Guide du Collectionneur de Tabatieres Chinoises. Paris, Denoel, 1980.

For the meanings behind the story of the bottles:

  • Bartholomew, Terese Tse.  Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2006.

For interesting analytical facts

  • Moss, Graham, Tsang.  A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles.  The Mary and George Bloch Collection. Hong Kong Vols 1-7

 

 

How To Buy…

Its happened. You have fallen in love with snuff bottles.  You have seen a few in junk/antiques stores and you plunge right in and buy.  But what have you bought ?  Most likely, and I say this out of experience of weeding out collections, you have bought an 18th/19th Century example that is damaged and or bad (they made many bottles in the 19thCentury) or you have bought a bottle that may look good but it is NEW….. either late last century or even NEWER.   There is nothing wrong with buying those bottles if that’s what you want to do but I would like to educate you in how to buy a good and old snuff bottle.

Look at as many old bottles as possible : visit museums and get to know a reputable dealer from the ICSBS, go to Auctions where you know that it is an old collection being sold and get your eyes in tune.   Look out for the Provenance – did it come from an old collection ?

And look out for the following:

Stone Bottles

  • In this category I include jade, quartz, agate and semi-precious stones.  This group have survived the centuries because they are hard and not easy to damage.  With a stone bottle you need to look at a few things:
  • Is it well hollowed ?  The amount of snuff that you can put in a bottle is important and so the better bottles are carved out from the inside to hold snuff the better the bottle.  I use here two examples to show the hollowing. 
  • Are the markings attractive ? Stone bottles can have natural markings which an observant viewer can see as patterns.  This is always a fun exercise, a bit like looking up at the clouds to see what image you might see.  If the carver has used the markings to depict a scene it shows an artistic interpretation of the markings which can be amazing.
  • Exterior carving  Stone bottles can be left plain to show the beauty of the material or they can be carved.  A well carved bottle is smooth finish behind the image, and then with rounded corners on the actual bottle design.  Remember bottles are made to be held so you do not want to feel any sharp edges.

Glass

  • As with stone bottles there are 18th and 19th Century examples which are lovely and those which are heavy crude or damaged.  Check for damage as glass chips easily and such bottles should be avoided.  Check the carving quality-  on an overlay is the background smooth, is the carving rounded.
  • Glass is perhaps the most difficult category to tell old from new. Nowadays, and since the 1970’s bottles have been made both as a tribute to and as an attempt to fake older glass bottles. It is tricky out there but these may be helpful hints.

Colour

  • Get to know the 18th and 19th Century Chinese glass palette.  If a colour is too bright or vibrant it is most likely modern.

Design

  • If the design is over complicated it is most likely modern.   Bottles carved with wave design on the background seems to be a new technique and this type is to be avoided.

Weight

  • Mostly the newer bottles are heavy.  Although not necessarily,  as some old bottles are weighted to imitate stones.

Porcelain

  • Many porcelain bottles were made during the 19th Century when the Jingdezhen private kilns expanded production into snuff bottles.  Porcelain snuff bottles were relatively easier to make than glass or hardstone or organic examples so there was a proliferation.  Porcelain bottles are fragile and damage easily. Don’t bother buying a damaged bottle.

Painting

  • In both enamelling and blue and white look for the finest painting- the detail- are the faces intact, are the dragon’s scales individually painted or merely cross hatched?

Carving

  • Some types of porcelain bottles were made by putting porcelain into a mould to shape the bottle.  It may have been that the mould was used up to eight times, so obviously the later batches were not as good as the crisper earlier batches.  The carving should be as crisp and clear as possible.

Reign marks

  • Porcelain bottles are more likely to have reign marks than other types.  Check that the mark is crisp and cleanly done.  Anything lopsided or overlarge is not good

 

I don’t wish to put you off buying bottles – but if you are unsure, ask an expert.

 

 

 

Latest News

Snuff Bottles Exhibition

at the Daniel Crouch Gallery 2021

Play the video to see the full display of bottles at this exhibition.

 

 

Snuff Bottles in the Antique Collective

November 2020

 

Click on the image below to read the article:

How To Organise…

So hopefully by now all your bottles are cleaned. The next stage is to organize them so you can have meaningful records of the collection. It is worth having good records so that at any time you can recall what you have, when you purchased and interesting facts. The number of bottles you have may influence the way you organize them.

Numerical Order

Number bottles in the order you acquire them – this is simple and all you need are numbers to stick on each bottle. Keep invoices and any other information in a file and remember to note the number down against that bottle. Lilla Perry in her book ‘Chinese Snuff Bottles – The Adventures and Studies of a Collector’ suggests the collector keeps notes on small cards, but in these days of computers it may be easier to keep the records on an excel sheet, a word document or even a programme specifically devised for collectors such as Filemaker Pro.

Organise by Category 

Lilla Perry talks about The Classification of bottles in her book and I have adapted her list to bring it more in line with current trends, as demonstrated in the Bloch Collection books. So divide your bottles into the following groups :

  1. Jade
  2. Quartz
  3. Stones
  4. Glass
  5. Porcelain
  6. Metal, Enamel and mixed media
  7. Organic
  8. Inside Painted

If you are using this system you can number your bottles individually under the category so you use 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc.

Descriptions 

When writing descriptions for your pieces, include the following information:

  • Material – what the bottle is made from
  • Colour (s)
  • Shape
  • Type of decoration : eg carved, incised, painted
  • Date bottle made (or subsequent additions)
  • Meaning of the decoration
  • Material of stopper, collar and spoon
  • Height of bottle; measured without stand or stopper (and if you like greatest depth)
  • Provenance: name of previous owner (s)
  • Published: name date and author of any book magazine or catalogue in which the bottle appeared
  • Purchased from : Dealer, Auction House, etc
  • Date Purchased
  • Price Paid: make sure to include the currency
  • You may also wish to add a photograph and possibly an insurance appraisal

Here is an example:

Squirrel and Grapes for Blog

4.1 Glass

  • Glass, snowflake ground with a deep red overlay superbly carved, each main side with a single squirrel clambering amongst grape clusters and vine leaves, the base formed by the branch of the vine.
  • Date: 1736 -1795
  • Height: 6cm
  • Provenance:  Edmund F.  Dwyer
  • Katherine Kitchen
  • Lloyd Noakes
  • Published: Christie’s, London, 12 October 198, lot 1
  • Chinese Snuff Bottles from the collection of Lloyd Noakes no 15
  • Exhibited: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October-November 1984
  • This motif was popular in the decorative arts of the Ming and Qing dynasties.  Squirrels have good reproductive powers and grapes grow in large clusters on vines. Like the bottle gourd, they imply a wish for ceaseless generations of sons and grandsons.
  • Purchased from: Susan Page, October 2018, CP $…..
Stickers (or not) for Identification 

If you choose then to organize your bottles in boxes under the various categories then you may not need to stick numbers on the bottles – you should be able to identify them without stickers. Put all your Glass bottles together in the order of your list.  This also the same if you display your bottles at home – stick to the categories. But if you choose to jumble up your bottles you may wish to use small paper stickers so it is easy to identify the bottles.

Most bottles survive stickers but be wary of putting them on organic bottles as the glue is not good for the bottle. I would avoid stickers on organic bottles. And never put them on lac burgaute bottles.

 

 

How To Clean…

* Do not wash inside painted bottles or organic bottles or very delicate bottles – I will talk about them later. If you are unsure  about the material of a bottle you have, send me an image and I will try to help identify it *

Express Clean
  • Get a damp clean cloth and wipe bottle over, taking care to do it over a soft towel.
  • Next take a clean dry cloth and rub all over.
  • Your bottle will begin to shine.
Deep Clean

If you haven’t washed your bottles for a while or never washed them, you may have to go for a bowl wash.

  • Remove the stopper and place on one side
  • Take a large bowl, put a cloth into the bottom so that if you accidentally drop the bottle it will be ok.  Fill the bowl with warm water and a little washing up liquid. Gently place your bottle in the water and using a soft bristled toothbrush gently brush the surface.  You can also clean the inside of a bottle. This is particularly beneficial for clear glass, agate and crystal snuff bottles.  However if you like to see evidence of old snuff in a bottle then do not wash the inside.  For bottles you choose to wash it will show the pattern of the material much better. Use a thin circular brush (the one here is a brush to wash inside metal straws) and you can also use an ear bud.

             

  • Then dry with a dry ear bud, and turn your bottle upside down on the mouth on the clean cloth and leave it to dry for 30 minutes. Put the bottle back in its box with the stopper out. After 4 hours it is safe to put the stopper back in.

              

  • Inside painted bottles should only ever be cleaned using the express clean method and do not take the stopper off – so you are only ever wiping the outside of the bottle with a damp cloth and drying it with a dry cloth.
  • Organic materials such as amber, lacquer, mother of pearl, cinnabar lacquer, ivory, gourd  and hornbill should only be cleaned using a dry cloth with a fine weave.  A clean handkerchief is ideal for this – just wipe and rub.
  • All this cleaning does take time and you may wish to clean 10 bottles at a time or else you end up with too many bottles drying upside down and no room on your surfaces.